Strangely, the most severe and long-lasting damage to Cozumel that impacts cruise travelers is the fact that all of the major piers where ships docked are in need or repair or replacement (damage to the island itself has by and large been cleaned up). As a result, all ships visiting Cozumel must tender passengers to the island's main ferry pier in San Miguel.
The need to tender is indeed one major reason why Cozumel is limiting the number of ships that call each day (necessitating, still, the arrangement of alternate ports, such as Costa Maya). And even in best case scenarios, such as in Grand Cayman where tendering is accepted as a way of life, the process can be onerous at best. At least that's what you're telling us -- that Cozumel's tendering procedures are rendering this once happy-go-lucky port an exercise in frustration. In e-mails and on message board postings, for instance, we've heard that:
"The tenders our ship has couldn't be used since they weren't compatible with the large ferry pier that was being used and we were on the Grand Princess which is a huge ship. So all we had was the two tenders that Cozumel provided. These tenders hold 350 - 400 people and take quite a while to board. The tendering process takes forever and was the worst tendering we've ever encountered on all of our cruises. It took us an hour and a half to board and get to the pier and we were on the second tender." --cruisinqt
"We [had] to tender, since the pier was totally destroyed. The process sucks and they really need to find a better fix for the tenders. However, we finally got on the island around 10 a.m., after an hour of waiting, and grabbed a taxi straight to Paradise Beach." --mrsbaru
"I was on the Conquest last week and it went to Cozumel. Tendering took a long time. My family took a Carnival excursion to Tulum so we were on the first tender by 8:45 a.m. and went directly to Playa del Carmen to catch a bus and missed Cozumel altogether. My friends said they didn't get to Cozumel until about noon." --suzy1212
Maybe Costa Maya's not such a bad idea after all! In that relatively new port of call -- consider it a bit like a private island -- the docks are plenty long and secure, and folks can easily embark and debark (for more information on Costa Maya, check out Day 5 of our Carnival Liberty virtual).
If you cruise this winter on the following ships that originally planned to call at Cozumel, here's a heads up: You will go to Costa Maya instead.
Carnival: Carnival Liberty, Carnival Victory, Carnival Glory, Carnival Valor (a spokeswoman tells us that itineraries will remain this way at least until April 2006; they'll re-evaluate at that time).
Disney: Disney Magic (according to sources there the line "has not yet determined when we will return to Cozumel, although we hope to do so soon").
Holland America: Westerdam, Volendam and Veendam (HAL also indicates that no return date has been set).
Note: If you are bummed about missing out on ruins in Cozumel, you'll be glad to know Costa Maya has them, too. The Mayan ruins of Chacchoben (the Mayan word for "red corn") are definitely worth a visit. The site dates back to around 350 A.D., and was largely unexplored until 1999. Costa Maya's pier-side tourism village also offers diversions -- pools, restaurants, bars, shops, a performance stage (there are music and dance shows throughout the day) and a small beach (though it's too rocky to swim).
Image copyright www.wilmacozumel.com, 2005